The PGA Tour has decided to grant releases to some two dozen players who have signed up for the Saudi International, provided they agree to play the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am at least once over the next two years.
The decision was sent to players in a memo late Monday afternoon that was obtained by The Associated Press. It ends speculation that the tour would deny conflicting event releases as it digs in against Greg Norman and his Saudi-backed venture presumably aimed at creating a new golf league with guaranteed money.
The memo signals that the tour is looking at the Saudi International separately, saving whatever fight looms for another day.
Dustin Johnson, who won the Saudi International last year when it was part of the European Tour, Phil Mickelson and Bryson DeChambeau are among 25 players who already have been announced for the Feb. 3-6 event in Saudi Arabia.
But it’s the same week as Pebble Beach — Johnson and Mickelson have won Pebble multiple times — and the release to play in Saudi Arabia comes with conditions.
For players who have competed at Pebble Beach at least once in the last five years, getting a release requires them to play it once over the following two years. If a player has never competed at Pebble, he would be required to play it twice over the next three years.
“We do not consider the decision to grant these conditioned releases to be precedent setting,” the memo said, adding that other requests would be determined separately.
According to PGA Tour regulations, players ordinarily are allowed three releases a season provided they play 15 times in PGA Tour events. For each additional release, they are required to play five more tour events.
The tour has been known to be flexible depending on the player and the circumstances, such as giving more releases to Ernie Els, the most elite global player of his generation.
And the commissioner has always had the right to deny any request if he felt it would cause harm to the tour or its partners.
A year ago, 23 players took part in the Saudi International, which was the same week as the Waste Management Phoenix Open. The field in Phoenix, however, turned out to be slightly stronger than the Saudi International, which pays appearance money.
Plus, it was part of the European Tour at the time. Europe cut ties to the Saudi event, and the PGA Tour this summer threatened to deny any release because the Saudi tournament was not part of any sanctioned tour. Since then, it has become part of the Asian Tour.
Norman and his LIV Golf Investments already have pledged to pump $200 million into the Asian Tour with 10 new events. He has said the Saudi International would not be one of those new tournaments.
Giving the PGA Tour pause was Norman building toward a league based on team competition. Commissioner Jay Monahan has said anyone joining a new league would have to give up his membership in the PGA Tour, which offers close to $500 million in prize money and other compensation.
No one has publicly signed up for a new league, and Norman has announced only staff additions in the two months since he revealed his new venture, funded primarily by Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund.
Rory McIlroy has made it clear he’s not interested, though he said in the Bahamas two weeks ago that he felt Monahan should grant the releases.
“I think we’re independent contractors and we should be able to play where we want to play,” McIlroy said.
The tour’s agreement on releases is similar to the Turkish Airlines World Golf Final in 2012, where McIlroy and Woods headlined an eight-man field for an event that was not sanctioned by any tour. It was the precursor to a European Tour event in Turkey.
It was held the same week as the Frys.com Open in California, and as a condition to play in Turkey, the seven PGA Tour members agreed to play the Frys.com Open once over the next three years. Woods never played. He had to withdraw in 2015 as he was recovering from back surgery.
Other players who the Saudi International announced last month would be playing include Paul Casey, Adam Scott, Xander Schauffele and Bubba Watson.
Johnson won it in 2019 and 2021, and he was runner-up to Graeme McDowell in 2020.
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